Should news organizations be wary of social media? Or embrace it? I've been arguing the latter for years, and now there are beginning to be lots of examples of journalists using Twitter and other social media tools in smart ways to engage their local communities.
In this 9-minute interview I hurriedly conducted at South by Southwest Interactive in March 2009 minutes before catching a flight, two of the top social media strategists in the newspaper business shared their thoughts about the value Twitter brings to connecting news people with their communities. Daniel Honigman, social media and editorial engagement strategist for Tribune Interactive, and Robert Quigley, Internet editor of the Austin American Statesman, chatted a few minutes after their session, "Old Media Finds New Voice Through Twitter."
Some top-level takeaways:
"You create customer loyalty" by being part of the online communities that users identify with, Honigman said. "Social media is a way to build your own brand and build your own audience."
Honigman pointed to solid metrics to support the use of social media: more page views, more site visits, and a richer set of community resources, including an ample supply of beta testers, new sources of events and ideas for new products and projects.
The change comes harder in the broadcast news world, said Honigman, who works with the staffs at WGN in Chicago and KTLA in Los Angeles (and I found this particularly interesting). "It's absolutely different for broadcasters. … The golden rule of broadcasting is that you never mention the competition, and in the social space it's real-time aggregation." If you let the community help you aggregate the best-of-breed resources available -- regardless of who created it -- "you can spend your time doing other things."
Quigley, who runs the online department, says 40 journalists use Twitter in a newsroom of under 200 people. He described Twitter this way: "It's a tool that lets you connect to your audience in a way that previously was very difficult or impossible. It gives you the ability to get to where they care about you, and you care about them. We all care about our community. Why not show that instead of being a walled-off 'we're giving you the news and we don't care what you have to say' kind of organization?"
Not all reporters take to Twitter. Some get it right away while others don't or don't want to. But staffers are using Twitter for news tips, sources and event announcements as well as using it to humanize themselves. The bottom line is: taking part increases your relevance in the mediasphere. "If we're not where people are discussing the news, then we have a chance of becoming irrelevant."
Quigley ended on a personal note: "Twitter is such a personal medium. People feel that they know you, that they're friends with you, and that can be rewarding, when people say that they love what you do. You just don't hear that when you work for the newspaper for the most part."
Apologies for the subpar lighting: The interview was conducted on the fly at the last moment.